Guide to Mobile Advertising in India

App developers and performance agencies around the world are investing increasing amounts of both effort and money in trying to penetrate and dominate the largely unsaturated Indian market.  With a population of over 1.284 billion people, and about 950 million mobile users, India is quickly becoming one of the largest mobile advertising markets in the world. India’s mobile advertising market was the fastest growing market in the years 2013-2014, and it is estimated to grow exponentially by as much as six-folds in 2015. One of the main reasons for the rise in mobile app downloads is the shift from less capable feature phones to advanced smartphones. In fact, the number of smartphone users in India has increased from a mere 29 million users in 2012 to around 170 million in 2015, and is expected to reach 382 million users by 2016. All this situates India as one of the most promising markets for mobile advertising in the next few years. Yet, it is also a very unique market, with its own characteristics and idiosyncrasies. App developers who wish to succeed in this “land of opportunity” must adapt to the local market and develop a culturally and contextually appropriate mobile perspective. In this post we will discuss some ways to do just that – to customize your app for success in the promising Indian mobile app market.

Understanding the Market

With a staggering share of 91%, the Android operating system enjoys almost complete control of the mobile app downloads market in India. iOS and Windows Phone are present in the market, but have a very limited share of 2 and 7%, respectively. The majority of the smartphone users are young males, with the 18-24 age group accounts for over 60% of all users, and the males make up 82%. 

The top three mobile app categories are gaming, social networking, and entertainment. Social network apps, as a category, have increased the most in the last year, with a growth of over 203%. Yet, this is also the hardest category to penetrate, with several apps (Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp) dominating the market. The categories of gaming and entertainment apps, on the other hand, are more diverse and open for competition. And with a yearly growth of 66% and 78% respectively, they present the best potential for app developers looking to penetrate the Indian market successfully.

The increased ad traffic in India does not always translate directly into revenues. Cost of advertising in India may be significantly lower than in Western countries, but so are the profit margins. The stiff competition and the prevalence of incentivized installs reduce profit margins even more, turning India into a market dominated more by quantity than by quality.

Localization, Localization, Localization

The prevalence of English speakers and the low cultural barrier in India make the mobile app market very open to foreign apps. This is clearly evident in Google Play’s list of top ten apps (ranked by gross downloads), where seven out of the top ten are foreign apps. Having said that, it is important to remember that English speakers are actually the minority in India. There are about 125 million English speakers in India (concentrated mostly in the urban areas), compared to over 425 million who speak Hindi as their main (and often only) language. Localizing an app’s interface and translating it to Hindi automatically triple its potential audience. India understanding

In addition, although most mobile internet users in India are located in the cities, it’s actually the rural areas that have the most potential for growth and monetization. These areas contain more than two thirds of the population, and most of the untapped market potential. The mobile advertising market in these unsaturated areas have shown the same trend discussed earlier: fast growth and a shift of users from feature phones to smartphones. Yet, it is these areas that require the most localization efforts, as they are often very different from Western markets in terms of culture and context. This means that the same app that might work in the Western world and in urban India may not work best in the Indian rural setting.

Some suggestions for rural-setting localization can be gleaned from a 2007 study which examined contextual patterns in gaming apps for children in India. The researchers found that apps that were not culturally and contextually adapted to the local audience resulted in poor gameplay experience. They also found that brighter colors were often preferred in gaming apps, that games that contained crocodiles (often portrayed as villains in Indian mythology) were poorly received, and that challenges which relied on time-pressure missions often received negative comments. They recommended app developers to design games that rely on easy fun approach rather than on competitive challenge.

Last, the advent of cheap phones, restrictive pay-as-you-go mobile internet plans, and low connection speeds (especially in rural areas) means that users will often think twice before downloading new apps. For these reason, it is worth keeping your bandwidth requirement to the minimum, even if it means downgrading your app and lowering the quality. One way of doing this is to have several versions of your app, an official “high-res” one at the app store, and a downgraded APK for users with lower bandwidths. In addition, since connectivity is often a problem, an app must be designed to work whether or not the user is connected to the internet.

Joining the Gold Rush

The Indian mobile advertising market has often been called “the land of opportunity”. With such a fast-paced, exponential growth rate and vast unsaturated market potential, this title seems quite appropriate. But of course, the gold rush inevitably caused by such opportunities also means many contestants and tough competition. In order to stand out in the market, one must remember the three tenets of successful app distribution (to paraphrase of the old real estate saying) – localization, localization, localization.


Attending Casual Connect San Francisco on August 12-14, 2015?

Join MobCo Media’s founder Tomer Hen in a panel titled “India is the New China: Land of Opportunity” for a discussion of the trends, techniques and nuances of creating, launching and monetizing games in India.

 India is the New China: Land of Opportunity

2:00 PM on Thursday, August 13th 2015 , Golden Gate 8 room.